Thousands of students opt not to sit Leaving Cert Irish exam each year

New data shows thousands of pupils without exemptions are choosing not to sit exam

More than 3,000 students without official exemptions opted not to sit the Irish Leaving Cert exam in 2016.

More than 3,000 students without official exemptions opted not to sit the Irish Leaving Cert exam in 2016.


Several thousand students are opting not to sit the Leaving Cert Irish exam every year, latest official figures show.

The study of Irish is mandatory at second level, and schools are required to teach the subject in order to be eligible for State funding.

There is, however, no obligation on students to sit the actual subject in the Leaving Cert exam.

A Department of Education report shows that in 2016 almost 9,500 students did not take the Leaving Cert Irish exam out of a total of 58,500 Leaving Cert students.

About 6,500 of these students had a department-recognised exemption for the study of Irish on grounds such as special needs or being educated outside the State.

This left a total of more than 3,000 students without official exemptions opting not to sit the exam.

The department study said the discrepancy in the data points to the need to “capture the reasons why students do not opt to sit Irish in State examinations”.

Teachers say students are opting out of sitting the exam for a variety of reasons such as disengagement with the language or using more time to study other subjects.

Another factor is that some of the 3,000 or so students may have secured Irish opt-outs from the National University of Ireland (NUI), which operates a separate system of exemptions from the department.

Exemption rules

The NUI’s exemption rules are more generous than the department’s and, for example, provide automatic opt-outs for any pupils born outside the State.

While the NUI awards upwards of 2,000 exemptions for Leaving Cert students each year, higher education sources say these include many students with official department exemptions.

The NUI said it agreed with the department that “other reasons for the numbers not taking Irish in the Leaving Certificate merit further study”.

In a submission to the department as part of a review of exemption rules for the study of Irish, the NUI said: “A proportion of students and parents do not see the value of studying Irish, and consider that their chances of securing points would be improved if they were not required to study the language.”

It has suggested that the department continue to promote the advantages of bilingualism and ensure that future policy in relation to the Irish language in school is “positive rather than negative”.

The department is currently reviewing exemption rules in an attempt to clarify and simplify procedures.

Thousands of responses were submitted earlier this year as part of a consultation process, making it the largest ever response to a consultation of this kind by the department.

An official review found the 20-year-old exemptions system was too complex, lacked transparency and was “not fit for purpose”.